Onstage, guitarist Ted Aguilar performs with all the intensity expected of a thrash musician. Between the head banging and fierce precision demanded by Death Angel from albums like The Ultra-Violence to recent favorites, including the brand new Humanicide, the band connects with live audiences by emitting energy. Aguilar and Death Angel’s current drive is as powerful as when the group emerged from the San Francisco Bay-area during the 1980s.
While aboard a five-day MegaCruise in October, featuring more than 15 top-tier metal and hard rock groups, singer Mark Osegueda, who joined Death Angel during 2001, referred to Aguilar as the band’s “Rock of Gibraltar.” This comes as no surprise, with Aguilar exuding only humility and good humor after the guitars are unplugged. While aboard the Norwegian Jewel, enthusiasts who greeted Aguilar during the MegaCruise were met several times with a genuine smile and the willingness to engage in conversation.
When I met rhythm guitarist Ted Aguilar he was quite calm after having been a part of a near eruption on the pool area’s stage nearly 12 hours earlier. Aguilar was preparing for a North American headlining tour starting in November to promote Humanicide. Sipping coffee, we discussed the Death Angel creative process, Aguilar’s career and workout playlists, among other topics.
Musicinterviewmagaine.com: How does Death Angel write and record?
Ted Aguilar: The writing process with Death Angel all starts with Rob Cavestany, co-founder and lead guitarist. He [Cavestany] kind of gets a basic idea of a song structure and sends it to Will Carroll, our drummer. Then they’ll listen to it together and they just kind of hash out the ideas and record it. Then he sends it to me. From there, I’ll normally listen to it to get a vibe of where the song is going, but I won’t really do anything with it until Mark’s [Osegueda] done with the vocals. You don’t want to say I’ve got something great right here and then find out Mark has a line or a sound that would require something different.
So you’re picking up on a vocal melody or even a vibe from Mark and then you put your stamp on it.
Because it’s happened in the past, where I wrote something really cool but then Mark’s suddenly singing and you have to go back and start from scratch.
With each member entering the studio separately, it seems like the days of getting everyone into a garage to write are mostly behind you.
It’s in waves and it works better that way for us, mostly because we’re all older now. We use technology to our advantage, like emailing an Mp3 instead of sending a cassette tape. But we still have to blend technology with the human factor. We send each other files to listen to and work on, but we still get together in a rehearsal room and play.
Is it safe to assume this process is a dramatic change from when you first started playing in bands?
Oh yeah. You’d go home and learn songs or write songs but then you come in with your bandmates and go, hey, I got the song, check out the riffs I wrote. And you’d spend hours in there figuring it out and then get a boom box to record it all. That’s how it was then. The times have changed. More than ever, bands have musicians living out of state, or out of country, so they use the Internet to their advantage. So they learn songs, but I’m sure they get together before they tour. Technology can be the glue that keeps a band connected, but I think at the end of the day, the band still has to get together and play in order to gel. And that projects right through to the crowd.
My favorite Death Angel albums are the relatively recent ones, starting with 2010’s Relentless Retribution, which begins the Wolf trilogy, concluded by Humanicide. The sound is clearer and heavier and no one’s contributions are lost in the mix. Was that part of a strategy?
It was a situation where we got a new bass player and drummer. We had to make some sort of adjustment because when you lose two original guys, things are going to change. The dynamic changes and we also just wanted to get fiercer. And we like to call Jason Suecof for producing.
Humanicide marks the fourth consecutive album with Suecof behind the glass.
Jason is one of the greatest musicians I have met. He’s a great producer and has a fantastic ear. As a person, he’s the funniest man and a great human being. I keep in touch with him every now and then. He’s a modern day guy. You know he produced a lot of great bands like White Chapel, Black Dahlia Murder and older Trivium albums. So we wanted to take the Death Angel way of writing and combine it with the sound he produces. He isn’t one of those ‘do this and do that’-type of producers. He pushes us to be better. But he also has a production style that we like that fits with us, so that’s why this has been a long-term relationship.
This is Death Angel’s fifth appearance on a cruise. Did you ever think of playing such a venue?
I never thought we would. I’d been on a cruise before as a passenger and I saw some snooty people. So when we did the first “70,000 Tons Of Metal” cruise in 2011, we were skeptical. How the fuck are you going to put a bunch of metal bands on a cruise? We didn’t know how it would work, but it was fun. The only thing is you’re stuck on a boat. But I don’t worry about it.
How are the audiences different when out at sea?
We have played shows and festivals, but it seems mellower on a cruise because everyone is laid back. You see bands like Metal Church or Anthrax walking around on the deck and people are really friendly. It’s completely different because most of the time when you do shows, you’re usually on the bus sleeping or you’re in your dressing room. Here, there’s nothing but interaction and people are basically here to have a good time, enjoy the sun, listen to metal and just chill.
You seem like the type of person who is aware that most fans probably traveled a long way to be here on the cruise.
I’m very conscious of it and I’m a fanboy, too, so I understand. People who come up to me are usually great and for me, life’s too short to be an asshole.
What are your favorite songs to play live from 2016’s Evil Divide?
“The Moth” is a good one. And “Father of Lies.”
You did those songs live last night.
It just feels right for me. We threw in “Lost,” which was cool, just to kind of break it up and change it in a good way. Otherwise, it can sometimes feel like pummeling for the fans and for me. I’m sometimes like, let’s take it down man. I really like playing those three from Evil Divide and I’m digging playing stuff from Humanicide, like “I Came For Blood.”
Fans usually want bands to play the newer material because they are still buying and enjoying it.
With metal, it’s weird. You get those elitists who only want to hear the old stuff. And I understand that up to a point. I get it. As a perfect example, I’m a Metallica fan. But then, how are you going to progress? The older material speaks to people differently. But you’ve got to move forward. We want to play as much new stuff as possible. But we also have to throw in some older cuts because people want to hear that. But then again, with more that you create, you are going to have to skip albums, which is really hard.
I’m always curious what musicians listen to play when working out. Do you listen to your own music?
Only if it comes in my shuffle, when I do my running. I like to listen to weird shit, but usually it’s non-metal stuff. I do skip it sometimes because I play it. Especially when I’m going to work out before I go to rehearse and a song comes on. I humorously say I have to play that later and skip it. But sometimes it comes on and I say I’m going to be playing that at rehearsal, I better listen to it for the arrangements.
So what is on your exercise playlist?
I’ve been listening to a lot of doo wop. And a lot of Sam Cooke and The Temptations and sometimes I’ve been listening to this artist named George Ezra, from England. He’s really good; it’s like pop. I like the Black Keys, too. I like to take my time. I want to listen to happy music because I want to be happy working out. Some people want to let their aggression out and that’s cool. But I just want to be happy. When Mark works out, it’s on shuffle, from metal to jazz to rock. For me, I’m cool with Bruno Mars. Another group I’m really into right now is a band from Sweden called Hardcore Superstar. They’re like the Motley Crue of Scandinavia with a little Metallica thrown in. Their album, You Can’t Kill My Rock ‘n’ Roll is awesome.
Who else inspires you that might surprise Death Angel fans?
One of my favorite artists of all time and a perfect example of an amazing songwriter is Tom Petty. Tom Petty wrote classic hits. Every album has hits. He has the songs. I saw him in 1997 at a 1,200-seater in San Francisco and he blew me away. But music speaks to people differently.
Death Angel is a full-time job for you. Do you do anything outside the band during lulls and downtime?
Yeah, actually, once in a blue moon, when I get bored at home, I help out at a music repair shop because I like to fix things. So I’d help and go fix instruments and gear for a day or two. Every once in a while the owner will go out of town for a few days and ask me to watch the shop and I do it, no problem.
If you were ever going to venture out into a different style of music, what would it be?
I like the style of music of Jimmy Eat World. I always wanted to write something like Weezer, with balls. I like Weezer’s attempt to put some harmonies into indie rock, but Jimmy Eat World was kind of like Weezer with more gusto. I like stuff like that. But I would not want to do another metal band. I’m happy with Death Angel.
Would you consider staying in the business in a way that does not involve performing?
I might want to get into the behind the scenes stuff, like management. But it would have to be a band or something that I love. Being in the industry for so long, you learn the dos and don’ts. Not many bands are really educated in the business and I get it because musicians just want to play and work on their craft. But it’s hard to find someone who’s on the same page with you, who could help you achieve your goal. You hear about musicians getting ripped off all the time. If I had a chance to manage a band I really loved, I’d want to help them succeed. Because if that band succeeds, it just opens doors for everyone else and it just keeps the scene healthy.
How do social media help or hinder your progress? Are all the cameras in the audience distracting or have you adjusted to that being the new norm?
Good question. It is pretty distracting seeing a lot of cameras in the air. I don’t mind a quick photo. But videoing the whole show? I used to hate it. Now I embrace it. It’s the way of the world now, really. The majority of the videos taken and uploaded on socials are bad quality. And it seems no one really cares about quality. People nowadays want instant gratification, but it kind of spreads your name around. It’s content, whether it’s good quality or not. I don’t mind it now. You hope a photo or video goes viral and that people share it and spread the word. That way other people can be interested enough to listen to your band and come to a show. We live in the digital world. No going back. Embrace it.
Death Angel is headlining its first North American tour in many years. How does the band’s preparation or approach change for the headliner status?
Well, we’re doing some stuff we haven’t done before. We’re bringing in some lights and a bit of sound. We’re doing a couple of pre-production dress rehearsals with our crew, to make sure the set flows well, the crew gets familiar with the gear, the guitar changes and that the lights are on point. We want to present a killer headlining show for our fans. We haven’t headlined North America in a while and we want to do it right. The fans deserve it.
Without giving away too much, what sort of surprises does Death Angel have in store for this tour?
We do plan to play a few from Humanicide. We did talk about deep cuts and curve balls. As for special appearances, you never know. Come to the show and find out.
See Death Angel on tour with Exmortus and Hellfire:
Nov 16: Seattle, WA – Club -Sur
Nov 17: Portland, OR – Hawthorne Theater
Nov 18: Vancouver, BC – The Rickshaw Theater
Nov 19: Edmonton, AB – Starlite
Nov 20: Calgary, AB – Dickens
Nov 21: Regina, SK – The Exchange
Nov 22: Winnipeg, MB – Pyramids
Nov 23: St. Paul, MN – The Amsterdam
Nov 25: London, ON – London Music Hall
Nov 26: Toronto, ON – Lee’s Palace
Nov 27: Montreal, QC – Piranha Bar
Nov 28: Ottawa, ON- Brass Monkey
Nov 29: Quebec City, QC – L’Anti Bar & Spectacles
Nov 30: Brooklyn, NY – Saint Vitus
Dec 1: New Bedford, MA – Vault @ Greasy Luck
Dec 3: Lancaster, PA – Chameleon
Dec 4: Baltimore, MD – Otto Bar
Dec 5: Richmond, VA – Canal Club
Dec 6: Athens, GA – 40 Watt Club
Dec 7: Tampa, FL – Brass Mug
Dec 8: Orlando, FL – The Haven
Dec 10: Lafayette, LA – Grant Street
Dec 11: Houston, TX – Scout Bar
Dec 12: Austin, TX – Come And Take It Live
Dec 13: Dallas, TX – Tree’s
Dec 14: Tulsa, OK – The Shrine
Dec 15: Enid, OK – 1927 Event Center
Dec 17: Albuquerque, NM – Launch Pad
Dec 18: Mesa, AZ – Club Red
Dec 19: West Hollywood, CA – Whiskey
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Justin Smulison is a professional content writer and producer whose first love is music. Smulison’s digital and print copywriting experience spans music, law, true crime, advertising and real estate, among other subjects. You can often find JS in Long Beach, New York, either running on the boardwalk or in the sand with his family.